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Contemporary Conversations:
Pete Schulte

In an effort to more fully understand the faces behind some of the works in the Museum’s most recent exhibition, Uncommon Territory: Contemporary Art in Alabama, the MUSES teen council had the opportunity to meet and interview three artists about their work: Jamey Grimes, Amy Pleasant, and Pete Schulte.

About the MUSES

The MUSES is a teen council that meets on Wednesday afternoons to enjoy creative experiences in the galleries and coordinate art events for teens in Montgomery. To learn how to represent your school and become part of the MUSES, please contact Elisabeth Palmer at  epalmer@mmfa.org or call 334.240.4362.

About the Artist

Artist Pete Schulte, from Birmingham, works mainly with abstract geometric patterns. He is an Assistant Professor of Drawing at the University of Alabama and has been teaching since 2011. In 2008, Schulte received his MFA for Drawing and Painting from the University of Iowa.

Interview

MUSES:

Is there any meaning to it being directly painted on the wall, and then they’re going to paint over it?

Pete Schulte:

Yeah, I think that is the meaning, I love that. It’s a good way for me to work with scale and also, not have to burden an institution or my daughter at a later point or the world with another gigantic thing, right? I love the ephemerality of it; the fact that it will be here for you guys and for anybody that comes in here and then it’ll be gone. That kind of exchange is just really interesting to me. I mean, we live a life, right? I don’t see why the work has to be preserved for posterity forever.

I can’t possibly account for the luggage you carry with you, and so to me this idea of meaning is defined by you and your interaction with the piece. There’s not a huge percentage of people that will interact, but there’s that small percentage that will and I think that you define that meaning.

MUSES:

It’s interesting how some artists will answer very differently, like “Yeah, there is a meaning.”

Pete:

Don’t get me wrong, these things, I am approaching these from a perspective but I’m much more interested in where that might take you.

Once I was doing a show in northern Minnesota, and I had these two little abstract drawings and this woman came up to me at the end of the night and she started pressing me about this piece. At first she [said], “I’ve never done this before, I’ve never been to an art opening before.” And I say, “Well, cool, welcome” and she tells me she’s taking a class at community college and trying to get her life on track and everything. Then she asked me the name of the piece; I called it DBL END. She says, “When I look at those drawings, I know that’s what I’m going to see when I see my son again.” Then she fled. Her teacher had invited her to the show and (the teacher) says “What happened?” and [I say] I don’t know what happened and I turn the question on her and I repeated what she said. And [the teacher] says, “Her son was killed six months ago in Afghanistan.” So, am I going to tell her that she’s wrong? Because her meaning doesn’t jive with mine? That turned out in the least likely of places, to be one of the greatest gifts as somebody who does this, to happen to me. So that’s that luggage, I could have never accounted for that.

MUSES:

What was the feeling behind this piece, the definition behind it?

Pete:

This piece had a real evolution to it. I was thinking about, in our current social climate, what flags mean. I thought about things that we do, that we don’t want people to know about. What if we made flags for those? So for example, I’ve got one piece called “A Flag for Troublesome Houses”. I’ve got another piece, about artists, that’s called, “A Flag for Good People Who Draw Troublesome Things.” So, being in this politically charged moment, [and this] very politically charged territory, I wanted to create a flag for people who maybe aren’t given as much of a voice- a flag for disenfranchised people. It’s a humanistic flag, there are these “X’s” which I think, echoes the Alabama flag; those flags have a very fraught history. It’s a symbol of power, and not for everybody, unfortunately. One of the things [I talked about with a former professor] was, “Who made the first drawing?” It was probably somebody going outside drawing an “X” on the ground as a way of saying, “I’m here.” An existential plea. I’m interested in the way that this “X” form not only echoes the flags, but also is an existential plea, like, “I’m here, don’t forget about me.” It’s also like a negation, like a crossing somebody or something out or off a list.

Sarah, MUSES member:

When I saw it, I don’t know why, I felt safe.

Cael, MUSES member:

Really? I felt almost something sinister. Very cold, very clinical. Very hospital-like.

Pete:

The fact that you can have two (different perspectives), I think that’s where all this kind of comes down.

Dr. Jennifer Jankauskas, Uncommon Territory exhibition curator:

It was interesting, nobody asked Jamey a question about being a perfectionist.

Pete:

I take care of the objects that I make, they mean a lot to me. In most aspects, I’m not a patient person at all. I think with the works on paper, I’ve become that, but I think it’s just because I enjoy making them so much. The worst day of drawing is better than most any other day that I spend. You don’t ever want things to not work out, but you’ll also learn that’s where growth comes from. As artists, it’s like you’re never done. “[For example,] Hokusai was a prominent illustrator, printmaker, for the bulk of his life. Then he retired. [Eventually, he] had to start making work again. That’s when he made the great wave; He was in his 90’s and said, “If I had 10 more years, I might be able to get closer. If I had 20, I think I could get there.” This is something that never stops. I think it’s a privilege to be able to do this. When you have these moments, when you get to come into places like this, and have conversations with people like you, it’s a really wonderful world.

Click here to read the MUSES’ interview with Jamey Grimes.

Click here to read the MUSES’ interview with Amy Pleasant.

Reflection

As the night came to a close, a unifying theme came into view: the question of meaning; what does art really mean? What does it mean to you? As contemporary artists, this is a question that each artist has asked themselves during their respective practices.

It was evident that the focus of the artworks was to pose a question to the viewer, to make an ambiguous statement and force the viewer to think deeply about what they are being asked.

Sometimes, art can be interpreted as a statement, like Peter Schulte’s piece, Humanist Flag, or Tomorrow Gon’ Be Too Late. Other times, it’s a question like Jamey Grimes’ piece, Roil. And yet art can also be a reflection of life, like Amy Pleasant’s series Seated. We greatly appreciate and thank these artists for taking their time to help us explore Uncommon Territory.